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First Time Deer Skull Lightening, Having Problems

Discussion in 'Skulls and Skeletons' started by SeaweedWitch, May 18, 2019.

  1. SeaweedWitch

    SeaweedWitch New Member


    I found this skull in my woods, and have had a hell of a time lightening it. I’m guessing it was out there for at least a year, probably more. It was largely sun bleached but has stains on it.

    Since it didn’t have flesh or anything on it, I started by giving it a good scrub with Dawn. Now I’m wondering if I should have soaked it for a few days, but I didn’t think to look for grease, or know what it would look like anyway.

    After drying it, I gave it two treatments with 40V peroxide beauty developer, wrapped it up and left it for 24 hours each time. The results were so-so. It is a little whiter, but still has stains on the back end. It also had obvious algae and dark grey patches when wet. The silliest part is that the second time, I used 4th of July napkins to “papier mache” the peroxide, and it left blue and red blotches on it. I know most people aren’t this stupid, but I am. lol I tried scrubbing it off with Dawn to no avail.

    At that point I was exhausted and all I had left was bleach. I poured up a diluted bucket (less than 10:1... more like 20:1) and left it soak for a couple hours and scrubbed it again. This finally took care of most of the algae, and the festive colors are gone, but it’s still not all white. (In my experience most of the grey disappears when it’s dry, but it was still a little wet in this picture.)

    What I’m still left with is some stubborn orange-yellow stains near the base of the skull. I’m wondering if it’s possible to remove them. What would you advise? Whenever the sun comes back, I will set it out in the sun for a few days. I was going to give up and paint it, but I will exhaust my options first. Could it be from grease, or is it minerals?

    My second problem area are the antlers. Most of it still has a light natural tone to it, except near the skull which was totally sun bleached. I went over it with simple coffee grounds, which helped a little. I planned to buy a couple different color stains and go over it with steel wool to repair the tone. However, the backside that was resting in the ground has some parts that are a lot darker. I’m wondering if I should try to clean them more? Or should I utilize these darker tones and work it into the whole color scheme? I guess it’s partly an artistic preference, but thought I’d ask if you’d give it a deeper cleanse first, and how one would go about that. All it’s had so far is the initial scrub of Dawn.

    Sorry this was so long-winded. I don’t plan to find anything like this again, so I want to treat it right, and finally welcome it in my home. Thanks a ton!!
    Last edited: May 18, 2019
  2. SeaweedWitch

    SeaweedWitch New Member

    Now I have a third problem (learning as I go,) with having bleached it. I had no idea until now that it would continue to eat through after rinsing. Most people just says it will make it dry.

    So from what I understand, I should apply a solution with Paraloid B-72? And do I need to buy hardware store acetone, or will pure acetone nail polish remover work (which also has some denatonium benzoate,) because I have plenty of that.

    I am really leaning toward painting it at this point, and I don’t want any damage under the surface. Would it still be wise to use the B-72 first? Someone elsewhere suggested BIN shellac-based primer, so I might use that.

    Alternative to the B-72, is there a way to get all the chlorine bleach out? I’ve read you can get it out of your hair with water and vinegar or baking soda, but have no idea if that would work.
    Last edited: May 18, 2019

  3. joeym

    joeym Jeannette & Joey @ Dunn's Falls

    Exposure to direct sunlight should aid in deactivating the chlorine. The active ingredient in bleach, Sodium hypochlorite is very unstable in the presence of sunlight. That's the reason swimming pools need constant chlorination. I don't think that amount of bleach for that short a timespan is going to destroy your skull.
  4. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Too much, too fast, too soon.

    Now .. for the bleach, try a soak in some water with white vinegar. Not for more than a day as vinegar will also damage the calcium of the skull. What is done is done with that. Part of the learning curve. What your friends meant when they said it will make it "dry" was the bone turns to powder and falls away. If someone told you to use it, avoid any more helpful hints from them. After a soak in vinegar, another soak in clean water with a little baking soda added to neutralize the vinegar. You were good with the peroxide. You can try submerging something like this in the future and leaving it for a day or so to allow it to soak. 40VOL liquid, not the cream.

    The stains are more than likely mineral stains from laying on the ground. It was surrounded by oak leaves which are also full of tannins. Go and buy some Iron Out at the hardware store, mix up a solution of it in a bucket and soak the skull in it for a day. It will probably also alter the dark stain on the back of the antlers. It may work, but do not expect it to get all of the staining out.

    Research on here on how to stain antlers. There are many great posts and tutorials on doing this. Also search on YouTube. It's not hard and you only need a couple of colors ... or potassium permanganate.

    As for paint? Paint makes things look crappy. Might be better to enjoy the character of it. Also do a lot of reading about the paraloid. No, nail polish stuff won't work. Straight acetone but you will probably be better off with denatured alcohol. If you are not going to keep processing skulls, paraloid might be too much of an expense. If the skull is not crumbling and falling apart you do not need it to hold the bone together. I believe there is a Krylon non yellowing clear that you could use as a sealant. In your pictures, the bone seems to be ok and not falling apart to bits.

    Take your time with it and don't rush.
    Last edited: May 19, 2019
  5. SeaweedWitch

    SeaweedWitch New Member

    “Too much, too fast, too soon.”

    Well I’ve been doing this all over 2 weeks. How slow is one supposed to go?

    I’ll be taking all this advice and applying it. I’ve never had to do anything like this before. The first time I asked on a hunting subreddit every single commenter said just to bleach it, so I’ve come a long way in understanding better. At least it finally killed the algae, so I’m not too mad.

    I can buy a small packet of B-72 for a few bucks on Etsy so it won’t be a burden if I need it.
    Last edited: May 19, 2019
  6. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    On Etsy? .. I see a tiny bag of 100 grams for over $7.00 with the shipping. Someone is making money. Last time i bought it was from here. http://www.museumservicescorporation.com/scat/co.html $26.95 for a kilogram There might be other sites that have it for less but I haven't searched for a while. If you go with the larger quantity, you can make up a gallon or two of it and pour it into a container that will fit the skull and soak it. Anything you have left you can put it in a container and cap it and it will be around for many more projects. Don't use it though until you are happy with what the skull looks like and want to seal it. It is pretty much the only thing that will soak into the bone deep enough to prevent any flaking or disintegration from chlorine. It also makes the bone surface pretty much washable if it gets dirty from hanging or being handled.
  7. I've had great success getting stains out by putting an aquarium heater in a bucket.. filling with water and adding some Dawn dish soap.. and letting it sit at like 80 degrees for a couple days. Typical degreasing method, but it really helped to brighten it up.

    And to darken the antlers, I got a wood stain and patted it on with a cotton ball in the affected areas and wiped it off after a few moments. It really helped a lot to bring that color back from the sun bleached color.
    To achieve more color than just the stain on the ANTLERS, (not the skull) you can pick up an ink wash for it. I have had good success with Citadel shade paints, Agrax Earthshade.

    And as for the skull, I second the Polaroid method. It can work wonders